Play Fantasy The Most Award Winning Fantasy game with real time scoring, top expert analysis, custom settings, and more. Play Now
 
Tag:Eli Manning
Posted on: January 17, 2012 11:07 am
 

Super Bowl Odds: Championship Game Previews

A rematch of the 2007 Super Bowl is almost likely at this point. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Earlier this month we took a look at the odds for teams to win the Super Bowl, just before the playoffs began. If you bet on the 49ers (+1200), you're feeling pretty good about life. If you bet on the Packers (+16), well, not so much.

The odds have been recalibrated in advance of the AFC and NFC Championship Games so let's take a look at who's likely (and unlikely) to win the Super Bowl. Plus: hypothetical Super Bowl matchups! All odds courtesy of Sportsbook.com.

Odds to Win the Super Bowl

Team: New England Patriots
Super Bowl Odds: +120
Value of Bet: 4
What Has to Happen: The Pats defense has to show up for at least one more game and Tom Brady needs to keep being the angry, destructive cyborg that he was in the first half against the Broncos. The Patriots are a shockingly high favorite here given that they've got to win two games like everyone else, and given that the Ravens stomped their faces the last time Baltimore came to New England.
Fun Prop to Play This Weekend: Under on the longest touchdown of the game at 47.5. Both the Ravens and the Patriots give up long plays, but if you look at each of their last five games, most shots have been taken from 40 yards in. Only Torrey Smith represents a true "deep threat" on either team.

Team: San Francisco 49ers
Super Bowl Odds: +325
Value of Bet: 2
What Has to Happen: Alex Smith keeps getting his Joe Montana on. The defense has to play well, of course, but roughing up the Giants is different than roughing up the Saints; New Orleans is a finesse team (no offense to Drew Brees and Sean Payton). Once Pierre Thomas was knocked out, they struggled to punch the 49ers in the mouth. The Giants won't have the same problem and are infinitely tougher. Smith successfully orchestrating the offense gives San Francisco a tremendous advantage.
Fun Prop to Play This Weekend: Super Bowl UNDER at 50. You think 50 points are getting scored if we get 49ers vs. Ravens? It's not even a total backfire if the Giants make it: only once since 2005 (last year, in fact) has the Super Bowl gone over 50 points total.

Team: New York Giants
Super Bowl Odds: +325
Value of Bet: 3
What Has to Happen: The secondary needs to keep shutting folks down; they've done a tremendous job improving over the past four weeks or so. Also, Gregg Doyel pointed out that the Giants wanted to get physical with Jermichael Finley during the Packers game. They will need to do something similar with Vernon Davis (and then possibly Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez) if they plan on winning the Super Bowl. At the very least, they shouldn't leave Vernon in one-on-one coverage.
Fun Prop to Play This Weekend: Giants +4.5 versus Patriots in a hypothetical Super Bowl. Yes, you can bet on this. Crazy right? Already, no one believes in the Giants. Good times! (All future SB matchups listed below.

Team: Baltimore Ravens
Super Bowl Odds: +600
Value of Bet: 1
What Has to Happen: Joe Flacco and Cam Cameron have to get it together for two games and do their jobs more efficiently. Were it not for Jacoby Jones gifting the Ravens a touchdown on Sunday, Flacco might be the goat for a huge upset right now, and Cameron throwing with two minutes remaining and Houston trying to use their timeouts gave the Texans an additional possession. Do that against, say, Brady and Eli, and it'll burn you.
Fun Prop to Play This Weekend: The under on Ray Rice's rushing attempts. I don't even know what it is but I know Cameron will find a way to go under regardless.

Hypothetical Super Bowl Matchups
Patriots (-6.5) vs. 49ers: That's not a surprising line considering how strong the Patriots looked and it would generate a lot of action on each side of the ball. However, if the 49ers look good in taking down the Giants, I'd think this would open up closer to 3 than 7.

Patriots (-4.5) vs. Giants: The Giants would be somewhat surprising underdogs considering their strong run but remember that last time they were 12.5-point dogs (!) against the Patriots. So maybe this more reasonable. Best guess: the Giants would get a LOT of action and push this line down.

Ravens (-2) vs. 49ers: A two-point line means "We have no real idea, but I guess we like the Ravens." The over/under isn't listed but you best believe it's lower than the current line of 50. Defensive matchups like this put a lot of the weight on Flacco and Smith which is why no one knows.

Giants (-1) vs. Ravens: Again, no one knows. I'd personally love the Giants in this situation, because as hot as they've been, this line seems destined to climb. Plus, if you've got two really good defenses, don't you want the team with the elite quarterback? (That's not you, Joe Flacco.)

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 15, 2012 8:14 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2012 9:27 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Best Super Bowl matchup?

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Pick-Six Podcast Divisional Round recap below and don't forget to subscribe via iTunes.

Ranking the Possible Super Bowl Matchups

Although there were some fairly drama-free games in the NFL playoffs thus far, there's no question we've been treated to some serious story-lining; Alex Smith's redemption alone was worth the price of admission. And with only three games remaining in the NFL season, we've narrowed the group of teams down a group of four elite squads that should produce an action-packed storyline.

But how do the matchups stack up in terms of watchability, entertainment value and general awesomeness? Here's my ranking:

1. Patriots vs. Giants
It's impossible to underscore how dramatic this matchup would be: after the Giants lost to the undefeated Packers 38-35, there was chatter of how this season looked eerily familiar to 2007 ... when the Giants upended the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII in a game that was one of the most memorable Super Bowls in NFL history.

That was the last time the Patriots made the Super Bowl and since then, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have come under fire for not winning playoff games. The Pats won't be worried about their perfect season anymore, of course, but the Giants look very similar to the team that won the Super Bowl in 2007, thanks to a dominant pass rush and Eli Manning truly elevating his game.

The storyline, which would consist primarily of the word "revenge," might get a bit stale, but there would be an incredible amount of players with stories from that year and an ax to grind.

If you root for drama, star power and some trash talk, this is the matchup you want to see.

2. Ravens vs. Giants
The last time these teams faced off in the Super Bowl, Ray Lewis was Super Bowl MVP and the Baltimore defense had their way with Kerry Collins, picking him off four times en route to a 34-7 blowout.

Also: Tiki Barber was relevant, if that tells you anything about how long ago that was.

From a football perspective, this could be a high-scoring game that will go either way; a good game from Joe Flacco would probably result in a Ravens win, but no one will bank on that, so the Giants will be favored (maybe 4.5 points?).

Both teams are explosive enough on offense, but even more explosive on defense. We'd see points, but we'd also see plenty of smashmouth football. If someone got out to a big lead, the game wouldn't necessarily be over -- seeing Eli lead a comeback against the vaunted Ravens defense would be entertaining as all get-out.

And the chatter leading up to the game would be simply amazing. Jason Pierre-Paul, Antrel Rolle, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis? If you're a media member, you should be drooling at the quotability factor for this one.

3. Patriots vs. 49ers
The fact that these two teams play such contrasting styles could set the Super Bowl up for an interesting and perplexing matchup, but it's hard to believe that the Pats would be favored by less than a touchdown in this scenario.

Maybe San Francisco could pull off the upset: we've already seen that they can keep Drew Brees and the Saints down if given two weeks to prepare. And they'll absolutely be given the "no one believes in us" card if such a matchup takes place.

Here's the problem though: as good as Alex Smith looked on Saturday late, he didn't look like Brady did later that night. The 49ers are one of the few teams in the NFL that can, theoretically, match up in their base formation against the Pats tight ends.

But if Angry Brady show up again (and, we have to assume he showed up against the Ravens if they're here), this game could look like the last time the 49ers made the Super Bowl, only in reverse.

4. Ravens vs. 49ers
In terms of pure on-field entertainment value, this is a nightmare situation. Both the 49ers and Ravens succeed by running the ball and playing defense so it makes zero sense for this matchup to actually happen, given the importance of quarterback play in the NFL and the high-powered offenses we've seen so far in 2012.

Yes, their coaches are freaking brothers and there's no question that Harbaugh Bowl 2.0 -- the pair dueled it out on Thanksgiving night -- would provide an incredible amount of entertainment in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.

But how quickly would the "They're Related!" storyline get old? It might take a day, maybe two tops. Trust me, with that much free time you'll be sick of it before media day even happens, and don't even get me started on the players.

There's some star power here, but it's primarily on the defensive end with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith (if anyone knows who he is anyway) and the like.

Joe Flacco versus Alex Smith? Yuck. We'd be treated to a defensive battle along the likes of that 16-6 Ravens victory on Turkey Day. Or the BCS Championship Game.

On the bright side, at least the teams would've gotten there through a playoff. (Read: legitimately.)

Winners

Alex Smith: Sports are funny, because moments -- not careers -- ultimately tend to define certain players. Smith is one of those players and a pair of moments on Saturday -- his 28-yard touchdown run and then "The Snatch" in the end zone -- redefined his career. He could blossom into one of the next great NFL quarterbacks or he could sign a big contract and become a bust again. It won't matter, because Saturday's game will always remain a turning point of some point. Smith likely won't ever justify his draft slot or being taken over Aaron Rodgers, but Saturday was an unbelievable redemption story.

Eli Manning
: Manning was, in my brain, approximately 145 for 146 on third down on Sunday night against the Packers. Every time Green Bay got him in a bad spot, the dude sat back in the pocket, waited until things opened up, and drilled a beautiful pass to a wide-open receiver. He's had an amazing season that could've been even better, and he's finally getting the credit he deserves.

Marques Colston
: Colston's set to be an unrestricted free agent, and the lasting memory he provided potential suitors was an outstanding effort, as he caught nine balls for 136 yards and a toe-tapping touchdown that was basically the only time a Saints player got deep in the first half on Saturday. If the Saints don't reach a long-term deal with Drew Brees, they'll have to franchise him, and that means Colston can get loose on the market and make a pile of money.

Bill Belichick: All season long the chatter was that Belichick's defense would hinder the Patriots from winning a Super Bowl. Maybe that's true -- we'll find out next Sunday against Baltimore. But the the Broncos were supposed to have a physical running game right? And the blew up the Steelers defense? Right? Belichick showed why he's a defensive genius and one of the all-time great coaches in that blowout.

Hakeem Nicks: Thanks to Victor Cruz' breakout season in 2011, Nicks kind of got loss in the shuffle. He shouldn't have: his performance against Green Bay was stunning, and broke off a 66-yard, gazelle-like touchdown run and then broke the Packers spirit with a Hail-Mary catch at the end of the half. His final line? Seven catches, 165 yards and two touchdowns.

Jenkins got abused by Davis all day long. (Getty Images)

Losers

Malcolm Jenkins: You might want to pick on Roman Harper for getting worked over by Vernon Davis in the end zone on the final touchdown, but Jenkins is the reason the Niners even had a shot. First there's the teardrop Alex Smith dropped over Jenkins into Davis' outstretched arms before his now famous touchdown run. Then there's Jenkins coverage on Davis across the middle when he picked up 47 yards on the 49ers final drive. Burnt toast anyone? (Screenshots via Dave Cariello of Canal Street Chronicles.)

Jacoby Jones
:
Dude tried to field a punt off a hop inside his own 20 on the Texans second possession of the game, didn't field it cleanly, got rocked, fumbled the ball and gave the Ravens a free touchdown. In case you missed it, the Ravens won by seven points.

Cam Cameron
: With the Texans holding two timeouts, 3:04 left in the game and the Ravens up four and in the Texans red zone, Cameron called for two pass plays. Both passes were incomplete and the Ravens kicked a field goal with 2:56 left. They burned eight seconds and didn't make the Texans use a timeout. Then on third and a half-inch with 1:38 remaining, Cameron called for a Vonta Leach run, instead of having his fullback block for Ray Rice. There never should've been enough time for a second possession for Houston in the first place.

NFL Officials: For two consecutive weekends, the NFL officiating has been, quite simply, terrible. The guys in stripes have a really difficult job, made even more difficult in today's world where jerks take pictures of their televisions and post them to Twitter. But during the NFL playoffs, the quality of work done by the zebras has really highlighted some of the flaws in the way in-game rules are applied in football. Something's gotta change.

Tim Tebow: We'd also accept John Elway or John Fox here, because the offseason's going to be miserable for all three of them despite winning a division title and a playoff game. Tebow's poor showing against the Patriots means everyone's got to wonder if he can be a "real" quarterback for the Broncos and as such, every time Fox, Elway or Tebow get anywhere near a microphone, they'll be asked about Tebow's status. It will unquestionably be annoying by the time next season starts.

State Farm: You guys really going to keep running the "Discount Double Check" commercials for the next month? Because that's going to be more awkward than Pepsi Max running Rex Ryan halftime speeches after the Jets miss the playoffs. (Please don't raise my insurance rates though.)

The Big Questions

 
Plenty of questions still remain about Flacco. (AP)

1. Did Joe Flacco answer his critics on Sunday?
Nope. The playcalling was bad and the Texans have a really good defense, but Flacco looked pretty awful all things considered. His two touchdown passes were nice, but were it not for some sick catches from his receivers, Flacco's numbers (14 of 27 for 176 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) would've been much worse. It's not all his fault this game was so close, but an elite performance would've resulted in a blowout.

2. Should Alex Smith have fallen down before scoring late Saturday?
Yes. This debate livened up our Twitter followers on Saturday evening, but the reality is, with the 49ers down 24-23 and Smith should've fallen to the ground, let the Niners melt the clock, force the Saints to use their timeouts, and the kick a field goal with, in the best-case scenario, no time remaining. Instead, Drew Brees got the ball back with 1:51 remaining and had time to score. Of course, he also scored too quickly, giving Smith time to cement his comeback legacy in San Francisco, but that's beside the point. Smith going down could have iced the game away, we just wouldn't have gotten all that drama.

3. Is it time for Gregg Williams to get out of town?
Probably. Williams shouldn't be the scapegoat for New Orleans lack of success, because he called a heck of a game on Saturday against the 49ers. With the Saints offense struggling, Williams defense kept the Saints in the game by limiting the 49ers points off turnovers. But because Smith drove the Niners to two scores in the last 150 seconds, you can bet that Williams will get a lot of the blame. He's got an easy out by joining Jeff Fisher with the Rams and he should probably jump on that.

4. Do we need full-time referees?
NO. Wilson and I batted this idea around some on chat (and talked about it on the podcast), but why would giving referees more money and job security equate to an incentive for them to be right more often? It doesn't. Giving them more time to learn the rules and properly apply them? Yeah, that would be great. It would also be great if the NFL made applying the rules in a fashion that doesn't screw up the game more practical, but that's another story for another day.

5. Is being a wild-card in the playoffs better?
Maybe? I dunno. I do know this: you look at the Packers and you look at the Giants. One team basically got three weeks off and cooled down from an unholy hot streak. The other team squeaked into the playoffs and got hot, playing their best football at the right time. The latter team, the Giants, are still alive.

6. Is Tom Coughlin still on the hot seat?

LOL. Also, LOL at Giants fans who wanted Coughlin fired and/or put on the hot seat when the Giants were losing to the Saints-49ers-Packers in succession, with a surprising win against the Patriots mixed in. Give the dude an extension already, he deserves it.

7. Will you please provide a picture of Andy Reid in the Punt/Pass/Kick contest?
Thought you'd never ask. Every single time the contest winners are shown on television, I can't help but think of this amazing photo:



8. How good can the 49ers offense be?

Very good. I think -- the progression of Vernon Davis and Alex Smith over the course of the season leads me to believe Harbaugh would be smart to bring his signal caller back, keep some continuity and let the pieces on the offense grow into the system even more, like they did throughout the year. It's quite possible they could end up being potent.

GIF O' THE WEEK

Decent catch by Arian Foster here:

Worth 1,000 Words


For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 15, 2012 3:41 pm
 

Tiki Barber: 'I'm not trying to come back' now

Barber says his NFL comeback attempt is over and is now trying to mend some fences. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

And so it ends … again: Tiki Barber has given up his dream of returning to the NFL even though that career path had been decided for him when the NFL took a collective pass on his services this season.

"No. No. I'm not trying to come back," Barber said according to ESPNNewYork.com. "It was an excuse for me to get up off the couch and do something, and it worked, because now I'm engaged in a few different things and I feel really strong about where I am personally, and that's all that matters in life."

But Barber's not in the news because he didn't make it as a 36-year-old running back. He's a story because his former team, the Giants, are in the playoffs and Barber was looking to un-burn some bridges he set ablaze during his post-NFL career as an NBC Sports analyst.

"We tried [to set up a meeting with Giants head coach Tom Coughlin]. He said no, through his agent, (Giants vice president of communications) Pat Hanlon," Barber said of his attempt to bury the hatchet. "But one of these days I'm sure it'll happen, because as we know, time heals all wounds. And I think at the end of the day, Giants fans, despite their dislike of me at times, know that I was one of the guys that put (it) on the line every time I put on my uniform."

At one time or another, Barber had a falling out with just about everybody in New York, including his former coach and franchise quarterback Eli Manning. In 2007, before New York upset New England in the Super Bowl, Barber famously questioned Manning's leadership skills.

Eli's response at the time:

"I'm not going to lose any sleep about what Tiki has to say. I guess I could have questioned his leadership skills last year with calling out the coach and having articles about him retiring in the middle of the season, and (how) he's lost the heart (to play). As a quarterback, you're reading that your running back has lost the heart to play the game and it's about the 10th week. I can see that a little bit at times."

Last summer, after Barber had announced his intentions to return to the NFL, former players-turned-TV-analysts Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan spoke frankly about why it was an awful idea.

“I didn’t think much of him when he did play,” Sapp told Rich Eisen on the aptly named Rich Eisen Podcast. ”I mean that’s the whole point. He was a fumbler all the way through his life, and then all of a sudden, somebody taught him how to hold the ball up high and then he (left the Giants) and said, Eli (Manning) can’t lead them and they’ll never win a championship.

“That kind of lends to who I’m talking about. This is the same guy. This is all encompassed into the same thing. There’s no way you turn your back on your teammates that block for you, that gave you the ball on short fields and did whatever they did. … There’s still no reason for you to attack your teammates.”

Strahan, who played with Barber in New York, was in no hurry to defend his former teammate. “Sapp is 100 percent right,” he said. “Only thing is, if it comes to playing football, he can play.”

Time has softened Barber, it seems. He now recognizes that Eli is a top-flight quarterback and has had a lot to do with the Giants' success.

"Here's what I look for when I'm looking for an elite quarterback. Someone that no matter the circumstances -- whether you're playing great, whether you're playing horrible -- has that unfettered drive to succeed," Barber said.

"That's what Eli has learned over the last five or six years -- from the early days when I saw him where everything used to rattle him -- to now. No matter what happens, he's always into the football game and doing something to help his team win. That's my definition of an elite quarterback, and why Eli is in on that conversation now."

Too little, too late? Probably.

But Barber sounds like he's working through the five stages of grief and after denial, anger, bargaining and depression, he's finally on acceptance. And trying to get on with the rest of his life.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 15, 2012 1:52 am
Edited on: January 15, 2012 12:37 pm
 

49ers, Patriots pulling hard for upsets on Sunday

The 49ers and Patriots know who they'll be rooting for Sunday. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

The Patriots and the 49ers advanced to their respective conference championship games on Saturday. San Francisco did it with defense and a heroic effort by Alex Smith, while Tom Brady simply eviscerated the Broncos. And on Sunday, both teams will be rooting for upsets in a big way.

For the Patriots, it's hard to imagine that anyone can beat them if they play like they did on Saturday; Brady threw five touchdowns in the first half and that game was never really close.

Divisional Round Recap

And they're already locked for home-field advantage. Regardless of whether it's the Ravens or Texans they play in eight days, the game will take place at Gillette Stadium.

But given a choice between the Ravens and the Texans, it's hard to imagine the Pats wouldn't prefer facing rookie passer T.J. Yates.

Yes, the Texans defense is stout and, yes, the Texans running game is explosive and dangerous and two-headed.

But the Ravens are a brutally physical team that provides a tougher matchup and potentially nightmarish memories of the 33-14 loss to Baltimore in New England during Wild Card Weekend in 2009. Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith would at least, presumably, keep the Pats defense honest enough to let Ray Rice run wild.

The Patriots would have a much easier time bottling up Arian Foster and Ben Tate with Yates providing minimal damage.

As for the 49ers, neither option for the NFC Championship Game is great. Both the Packers and Giants present problems. But if the Giants were to upset the Pack in Lambeau on Sunday, that would put the path to the Super Bowl squarely through Candlestick Park.

For the 49ers, getting a second home game would be absolute gravy. They've been nearly unstoppable in Candlestick this year, with their only loss a 27-24 overtime nailbiter to the Cowboys in Week 2. Once this season, San Francisco's beaten the Giants there. It's a clear-cut advantage.

And, of course, there's the quality of opponent. The Giants are terrifying if you're the 49ers because of their fierce pass rush and the problems that could pose for Alex Smith.

But the Giants actually allow more rushing yards per game than Green Bay (121.2 to 111.8) though the Packers are the preferred defense if you're the 49ers. They're not the preferred offense though: while Eli Manning's elite, the Giants simply can't cause the kind of matchup problems that the Packers present.

And the 49ers already stopped Drew Brees and the Saints. They can stop anyone, clearly, but if they're picking between a the pair of opponents they could end up against, they would absolutely rather see the Giants in San Francisco than the Packers in Green Bay.

Which is why they, like the Patriots, are pulling for an upset on Sunday.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 12, 2012 6:32 pm
Edited on: January 13, 2012 8:43 am
 

Film Room: Packers vs. Giants divisional preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

We can only hope this game is as entertaining as the December 4th shootout, which Green Bay won on a brilliant last minute field goal drive.

Since that day the Packers have looked mortal and the Giants have grown white hot. Can Round II produce a different outcome? Here’s the breakdown.


1. Slowing the Pack’s aerial attack
The Giants used a diverse array of coverages against the Packers in the last meeting and actually had Aaron Rodgers a bit out of sorts early on. Still, even though he wasn’t as sharp as usual, Rodgers threw for 369 yards and four scores (not a bad “off day”).

New York’s two-deep safety zone looks gave Green Bay the most trouble, but the only way a defense can get away with playing zone against this offense a second time is if it sprinkles those zones with disguises and man concepts.

You can’t outsmart the Packers; you can only hope to out-execute them. Generally, that means winning press-man battles on the outside. That’s what Kansas City was able to do, though they have better press corners than New York and didn’t have to deal with Greg Jennings (out at the time with a knee).

The Packers do a great job creating one-on-one matchups for Greg Jennings through play design. In example A (left), Jennings ran his route against rookie Prince Amukamara to the outside, while Donald Drive ran down the seam. This combination eliminated the possibility of free safety Antrel Rolle helping the overmatched Amukamara, who was flagged for pass interference. In example B (right), Jennings aligned in the slot, away from the tight end and running back. Because Jennings was running an outside route from this alignment, there was no way a safety or linebacker could help cornerback Aaron Ross on this play.

Interesting side note: the Packers usually create one-on-one matchups for Jennings by lining him up as the X-receiver in a 1 x 3 set (in other words, Jennings all alone on the left side, three receivers on the right side). However, they did not throw a single pass to Jennings from this formation against the Giants in Week 13.


Without Jennings, a good secondary has a shot at stymieing this receiving corps (for not only are a Jennings-less Pack without their No. 1 receiver, but suddenly No. 2 receiver Jordy Nelson must face a No. 1 corner, No. 3 receiver Donald Driver must face a No. 2 corner and so on). With Jennings, a good secondary still isn’t enough; a defense needs help from up front.

Pressuring Rodgers is difficult with his speed. (Getty Images)

2. Pressuring Rodgers
It’s easy to say New York’s key is having its four-man pass-rush get to Rodgers. But that only matters if the pass-rush pressure equates to sacks.

In the last meeting, Jason Pierre-Paul absolutely owned backup left tackle Marshall Newhouse. Rodgers was under duress all afternoon. But all that meant was he ran around more before completing his throws. Rodgers is so athletic, so strong-armed and so good at keeping his eyes downfield that pass-rush pressure does not disrupt his rhythm, it merely alters it.

The Giants dominated the line of scrimmage last game and finished with just two sacks. Unless they get six or seven sacks (unlikely, especially with Green Bay getting Chad Clifton back), their pass-rush won’t be a difference-making factor.

3. Matching up to Finley
The Giants have shown a perplexing willingness to defend elite tight ends with linebacker Jacquian Williams this season. Against the Saints in Week 12, Williams at times defended Jimmy Graham while safety Antrel Rolle defended Darren Sproles.

The next week, Williams guarded Jermichael Finley while Rolle guarded ... James Starks. (Seriously?!) Finley wound up beating Williams’ in man coverage for 24 yards on the game-winning field goal drive and finished the day with six catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. (The damage would have been worse if he hadn’t dropped three balls.)

Will the Giants take this approach again, or will they go to their dime defense and treat Finley as a wide receiver (which they’ve also done at times against elite tight ends this season)? Going dime would allow Rolle to defend Finley, though it would also put vulnerable rookie Prince Amukamara on either Donald Driver or Jordy Nelson.

4. Giants offense
As you might surmise, the Packers offense has too many weapons for the Giants to defend. Hence, Eli Manning will be compelled to once again light up the scoreboard. As we’ve explored the past several weeks, Manning is razor sharp against the blitz. The belief here is that an attack-oriented defensive approach will not work against the eighth-year veteran.

But Green Bay isn’t built to play any other way – at least not out of their nickel package. Dom Capers’ scheme is predicated on creating one-on-one matchups for Clay Matthews by blitzing others and using Charles Woodson as a joker. This might yield yards, but it can also create interceptions (the Packers had 31 on the season, which was at least eight more than any other team).

Manning is a virtual lock for 300 yards, but if he can be coaxed into at least two picks, the Pack are a virtual lock to host the NFC Title game.

5. Unless…
The Giants control the game on the ground. This idea seemed absurd a few weeks ago, but lately New York’s front five has gelled and Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs have rediscovered their ability to break tackles running downhill.

The Giants spent a lot of time in base personnel last game, though primarily for passing purposes (they ran the ball just 20 times). They wanted to limit Capers’ nickel blitzes and also throw against Packers backup inside linebackers Rob Francois and D.J. Smith (who were playing for the injured Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk).

With the Packers back to full strength and the Giants’ passing game having significantly improved in three-receiver sets, throwing from base personnel might not be as big a factor this time round. But the ground game might be a bigger factor – especially if the Giants don’t believe the return of defensive lineman Ryan Pickett can suddenly stabilize Green Bay’s wavering run defense.

It will be fascinating to see how Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride calls the game early on.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the Divisional Round games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: January 8, 2012 8:51 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 10:12 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile, Wild Card: Ranking Tebow

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Pick-Six Podcast Wild-Card Weekend recap below and don't forget to
subscribe via iTunes
.

Ranking the Remaining QBs

Are you ----ing kidding me? Did that just happen? That, of course, is Tim Tebow hitting Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard, walk-off touchdown in the first-ever game featuring the new NFL overtime rules to push Denver past Pittsburgh and into the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

The lesson, as always? You're gonna want to have someone who can sling the rock when the playoffs roll around and Tebow somehow morphed into that in the first round of the playoffs against one of the all-time great defenses. But where does he rank with the rest of the quarterbacks remaining in the playoffs?

8. T.J. Yates, Houston Texans
With all due respect to the only former UNC quarterback to win a playoff game, he just doesn't stack up with the rest of the folks in the playoffs. That being said, he's a perfect fit for the zone-stretch offense that the Texans run, and as long as he doesn't have to do too much, he's fine. He's probably gonna have to do too much against the Ravens this week.

7. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Smith's been incredibly improved in 2011 so it's not like this is taking a potshot at him. Smith had his best season -- by far -- of his career, throwing just five picks and completing 61.3 percent of his passes. But you're telling me you're taking Smith if you need to win a game? No, no you're not.

6. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Flacco's had great moments this year, but his inconsistency is absolutely terrifying. Seven times (seven!) he's gone under 200 yards passing on the season, and many times this year the Ravens have been forced to overcome his poor play. Some of those times, they just don't lean on Flacco because they have a beasty run game and a really good defense. But that's not exactly helping his cause, you know?

5. Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos
COME ON DOWN THE OLD KOOL-AID FILLED RABBIT HOLE! But, no, seriously. Tebow made throws on Sunday night that he's not supposed to make. And he did it against a defense that doesn't let most quarterbacks make throws like that, much less a would-be remedial QB like Tebow. But he brings a running game, he brings an improved passing game, he brings along the worst wide receiver corps (by far) of anyone in the playoffs and he brings along the dreaded intangibles.

4. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Eli's a top-five quarterback in the NFL this season, and he's got a legitimate case to be right there in Tom Brady's class (just like he said before the season!). When it comes down to it, though, you're not taking him for a playoff stretch run over any of the rest of the guys on the list. At least not yet anyway ... (But yes, there's a HUGE gap between 1-4 and 5-8.)

3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
People keep saying that Brady does the most with the least but that argument's kind of ridiculous when Rob Gronkowski just wrapped up the greatest season by a tight end in the history of the NFL. Three here, by the way, is like "1c."

2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
The third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 450 yards in a playoff game.

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Last I checked he's still the defending champion. Plus, he's got the mobility that no one else on this list (even Tebow) has, he's the most accurate quarterback on the run and he's working on a week's rest in addition to two weeks of hearing everyone talk about how he's not the best quarterback left in the playoffs.

Winners

Josh McDaniels: Not only is the former Broncos head coach and Patriots offensive coordinator now back with the Patriots but he's going to play against Tim Tebow next week. This is a good thing because McDaniels basically got fired for drafting Tebow. I mean, not entirely but it didn't help things. Doesn't everyone look kind of silly for not trusting him now.

T.J. Yates:
Yates was the rookie who was going to screw things up for his team, but instead he played the perfect foil to Andy Dalton's inconsistency, going 11 of 20 for 159 yards and a touchdown. Those aren't mind-blowing numbers, and 40 of the yards came on one touchdown pass to Andre Johnson, but Yates did exactly what he was supposed to do, which is "don't screw things up."

Overtime Rules: It -- literally -- took Ron Winter longer to explain the new overtime rules than it took the Broncos to end the overtime. One play to DeMaryius Thomas and that's it. Which is good for the NFL because a longer, more prolonged overtime opened up the possibility for mistakes by refs and scrutiny by media and fans. Instead now we think it works perfectly!

Pierre Thomas: Dude was kiliing it on Saturday and might be the biggest reason New Orleans won. He "only" scored once and but he put up 121 total yards and he fought for every freaking one of them; there's a reasonable chance 115 of them were after contact. Thomas' refusal to go down to the turf resulted in a lot of Saints drives getting extended a lot further than they should have, and he deserves props for his effort.

Cleveland Browns: When the Falcons were eliminated, the Browns locked up better draft picks in 2012, thanks to the Julio Jones trade. (They'll now pick a lot earlier, no worse than 23rd, in the first and fourth rounds.) Tom Heckhart also looks a little bit smarter today -- even if Julio Jones is special (he is) and even if the Falcons will eventually be more explosive (they should), that deal didn't work out the way the Falcons and Thomas Dimitroff thought it would. Yeah, they made the playoffs, but it was as a wild card and they didn't score a single point on Sunday.

Smith would like you to re-spot that ball, sir. (AP)

Losers

Mike Smith: Twice on Sunday, Smith had a controversial fourth-down decision to make. OK, the decisions weren't really that controversial, but the playcalls -- and the result -- were. Each time, once with Michael Turner on the freaking sideline, the Falcons snuck Ryan against a stout Giants defensive line, and each time, he was stuffed. Those decisions don't change the outcome of the game, per se, because the Giants still outscored Atlanta by more than six points, but Smith's going to answer a lot of questions about his decision-making.

Chris Crocker
: Crocker's a friend of the blog, so we don't want to rip him too hard, but that was a pretty terrible game from the Bengals safety. He dropped a crucial would-be pick-six at the start of the second half, he missed a sack of Yates, and his incredibly poor "tackling" on Arian Foster's 42-yard touchdown run is going to be replayed all week long. Not a good day for Crocker.

Lions Defense: It's not rare for a defense to get surgically dissected by Drew Brees. But the Lions have to be shaking their heads at missing a good chance at up-ending the Saints on Saturday because their defense couldn't get any penetration on Brees, couldn't make any stops on fourth downs, didn't make the Saints punt a single time and generally looked lost in coverage. They also dropped a pair of easy interceptions, one of which Eric Wright should've taken to the house.

Mike Mularkey: After a great season from the Falcons and a strong finish to the year, Mularkey's been a hot name as a coaching candidate and has a slew of interviews lined up. But the people looking to hire him for a full-time job are going to wonder about the incredibly conservative gameplan Mularkey dragged into the Meadowlands on Sunday, and how he managed to get outscored by Eli Manning 2-0. And then there's the short-yardage stuff (see: Mike Smith above). Smith's saying "go" but Mularkey's the guy dialing up the plays, and it might behoove teams to put him through a "Fourth-and-Short Playcalling Quiz" before giving him the gig.

John Elway: At halftime against Pittsburgh, Tim Tebow had thrown for 185 yards (all in the second quarter) and tied two of Elway's playoff records with the Broncos: he and Elway are the only Broncos quarterbacks with a) two 50-yard passes in the same game and b) a rushing and passing score in the same game. Oh and then he walked off the Steelers in overtime with an 80-yards pass. Please tell me how he's not going to bring Tebow back in 2012.

The Big Questions

 
Marvin needs to challenge his challenges. (AP)

1. What was Marvin Lewis thinking on those challenges?
He wasn't. The Bengals didn't lose because Lewis bungled a pair of first-half challenges, but that shouldn't excuse him for the actual bungling. Lewis gave away two timeouts and any chance of challenging in the second half by deciding that the Bengals (4/4 on short-yardage conversions against the Texans in Week 13) needed to challenge a bad spot on a second down and two that only went for one yard. Then he compounded it by challenging a catch in the second quarter, which allowed him to enter halftime with a deficit and no challenges.

2. Can the Saints win on the road?
Of course they can. But will they? The Saints are 0-4 in franchise history away from the Superdome when it comes to the playoffs and that's an applicable lesson for this year's team, who only played five games outside of a dome the entire year.

That's right: just five games. Now, the Saints know this. They talked about it with our own Pete Prisco after their win over Detroit on Saturday. The Saints are guaranteed nine games inside a year, because of eight home matchups and a game at division rival Atlanta. Here's what happened when they did venture away from the comfort of turf:

Week/Location Result Points Scored Passing Yards TD/INT Total Yards
Week 1 @ Green Bay L 34 419 3/0 477
Week 4 @ Jacksonville W 23 351 1/2 503
Week 5 @ Carolina W 30 359 2/1 444
Week 6 @ Tampa Bay L 20 383 1/3 453
Week 14 @ Tennessee W 22 337 2/0 437
Weekly Average N/A 34.2 334.2 2.9/0.9 467.1

Two of the Saints three losses this season came outside on the road, and they only went above 30 points twice on the road, despite averaging 34.2 points per game this season.

To paraphrase our Vice President, that's a big freaking deal.

3. Do Matt Ryan's playoff losses make him a bad quarterback?
No. But Ryan's the guy who'll be heavily judged over the next year with respect to his postseason performance, since he's now 0-3 in the playoffs. In those three games, Ryan's 70 of 110 for 584 passing yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. He's definitely the victim of a) conservative gameplans and b) playing against good teams (the NFC Champion Cardinals, the Super Bowl Champion Packers and this year's Giants), but that isn't going to stop people from discussing the fact that his stats stink in the playoffs and he can't win. It's the same thing people said about Aaron Rodgers before last year.

4. Can the Giants really win the Super Bowl?
Damn right they can. The "shades of 2007" storyline is a bit played out at this point ... but it's just kind of true. They're a wild card that everyone counted out, Eli Manning's hitting his stride at the absolutely perfect time, they've got a running game that's shaping back up and their pass rush is absolutely deadly. This is the kind of the same team, just with different players. (San Fran up-ending the Saints and keeping the Giants away from the Superdome would help a lot, too.)

5. Did you really rank Tim Tebow FIFTH on the remaining quarterbacks list?
Yes. Let's just move on before I emerge from my overtime-induced blackout.

6. How bright is the future for the Lions?
Very bright. They'll obviously want to lock down Calvin Johnson at some point, and they need to get some secondary help this coming offseason, and getting Mikel Leshoure back to provide a power running game is critical. But Matthew Stafford's primed to be the next quarterback who warrants a debate for "elite" status, in case the 5,000+ yards he tossed in 2011 didn't clue you into that. 

7. Why did the Saints draft Mark Ingram?
Not sure. But it at least seemed like a good idea the time, right? Ingram was supposed to be the power runner for the Saints, but in his first season he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and scored only five touchdowns. He's not playing now and Chris Ivory's performance on Saturday night really leads me to believe New Orleans could've gotten better value at a different position in April's draft.

8. Could Kevin Kolb land another big contract?

Possibly! Doing so would mean that Kolb would lose his first big contract though: Charley Casserly reported on Sunday that the Cardinals are a sleeper candidate for Peyton Manning if the Colts let him go. To make that happen, they'd obviously have to bail on Kolb's contract, which they can reportedly do at a fairly cheap cost. The timing is the issue though, since Kolb's roster bonus is due in March as well. But if it happens, Kolb could instantly become the third- or fourth-best quarterback available on the market, along with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Matt Flynn. It's a longshot, but an interesting situation to watch nonetheless.

9. Does Tebow deserve all the credit for the Broncos win?

As usual, no. Tebow gets a ton of credit because he does some amazing things late in games, but let's be clear: the Steelers played pretty freaking badly on Sunday night. Their pass defense was AWFUL and they ran Ben Roethlisberger out on a bad ankle and looked anemic early on on offense. The Broncos defense deserves some credit too, of course, because they played a nice game. And so do Tebow's wide receivers. Just figure out a way to spread it around.

GIF O' THE WEEK

OH NO Hakeem Nicks DID NOT JUST DO THE DIRTY BIRD. OH YES HE DID Jamaal Anderson.

Worth 1,000 Words


For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 8, 2012 4:01 pm
 

Giants running game sets tone early vs. Falcons

Bradshaw and Jacobs pummeled Atlanta all day Sunday. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

When the Falcons declared cornerback Brent Grimes out for Sunday's wild-card matchup against the Giants, conventional wisdom suggested that New York and Eli Manning would do what they do best: throw the ball against a depleted Atlanta secondary. Further evidence that that would be the game plan, at least early: the Falcons lost safety William Moore to an injury in the first quarter.

Instead, the Giants' 20th-rated rushing attack controlled the line of scrimmage and the clock against the Falcons' No. 3 rush defense for the entire game, and most notably the first 30 minutes. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs combined for 17 carries and 116 yards (6.8 YPC)in the first half. For some perspective, during the regular season, the Falcons allowed, on average, 97 yards per game (4.2 YPC). Manning, meanwhile, was 12 of 20 for 101 yards and one touchdown.

New York led 7-2 at the break but it might as well have been a three-score lead. Because in the second half, the Giants defense continued to harass Matt Ryan and stifle Michael Turner, and the offense continued with what worked in the first half: pounding the ball, on early downs, taking shots downfield when the situation was in their favor, and milking the clock through it all.

Hakeem Nicks, who along with Victor Cruz gave the Giants their first 1,000-yard receiving duo in team history, hauled in a 72-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter that involved the ball traveling roughly 15 yards in the air and the remaining 57 on the ground came courtesy of Nicks. That made the score 17-2.

Another Manning touchdown pass, this time a 27-yarder to Mario Manningham in the fourth quarter, put the game away for good, but the rest of the half -- before Nicks' TD and after Manningham's -- consisted of Bradshaw and Jacobs running the ball down the Falcons' throat.

There's an old football saying about running games traveling well, especially this time of year, but there's a lot of truth to that. New York proved that Sunday. The Giants ended the day with 173 yards rushing (Jacobs had 14 carries for 92 yards and Bradshaw was good for 14/63), and held the ball for 34:34.

And next Sunday when they face the Packers in Lambeau Field (4:30 p.m. ET), their rushing attack could be the difference between keeping Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense off the field and getting blown out of the stadium.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 8, 2012 12:30 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 3:07 pm
 

Falcons without CB Brent Grimes against Giants

Atlanta's pass defense has its work cut out for them against Manning and New York's receivers. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Brent Grimes is one of the most underrated defensive backs in the league and when the Falcons face the Giants in Sunday's wild-card game, they'll be without him, according to CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Knox Bardeen.

This is especially troubling given Victor's Cruz's emergence this season as Eli Manning's favorite target. The task of slowing Cruz and Hakeem Nicks will fall to backup Dominique Franks and veteran Dunta Robinson who is already established as one of the league's top cornerbacks.

Franks, a second-year player out of Oklahoma, has started four games this year, has five passes defended and two interceptions.

Football Outsiders ranks the Giants as the seventh-best offense in the league (fourth in passing, 20th in rushing) and the Falcons are the sixth-best defense (10th against the pass, third against the run).

Given those numbers and Grimes' absence, we fully expect to see Manning throwing early and often Sunday afternoon.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com